Once you get past the idea that taking your toddlers on a trip is a guaranteed nightmare and you get planning, you’ll soon see that traveling with toddlers doesn’t have to be a struggle.
There are plenty of ways to make the experience fun and enriching for everyone involved. Here are some of my tried and tested tips when going on family vacation with a toddler in tow.
My first piece of advice is to ‘keep it real’. Some might say it’s on a par with lowering your expectations. When traveling with toddlers on your family vacation there will be ups of course, but also downs. It’s best to keep it real and realize that not everything will go according to plan. Some things may go wrong, and it probably won’t be the perfect experience you dreamed of. However, it can be fun, and if you keep your expectations realistic, you’ll avoid the disappointments.
My next tip for a toddler-friendly trip is to plan it all down to the finest detail. I can’t say it enough: the key is in the planning and leaving nothing to chance. Plan for all eventualities, and even then, there are some you’re bound to forget. But it’s clear that the better prepared you are, the less you’ll be rocked by the unexpected! Think about all aspects of the trip, from the logistics and the actual family-friendly hotel you’re staying in to the return journey. Think about the meals, the nap times, the clothes management. Yes, it’s a lot to think about, but the more you plan ahead, the easier it will be on the spot.
Another key element of traveling with a little one is the actual logistics of the packing. There’s nothing worse than standing in an airport with a bag half open, things falling out, desperately searching for that all essential wipe, toy, carrot stick or whatever solution you need to quash the latest emergency. My failsafe trick is to divide into various pockets—or create more, thanks to ziplocks—thus splitting items up into functionality or type and knowing exactly where to dip my fingers when in need of water/sunglasses/sunscreen/wipes/nappies asap.
The next golden rule? Keep them busy! Parents who have taken toddlers on long (and short) trips will all tell you the same: keep the little ones entertained! Boredom is your number one enemy (together with lack of sleep!). Many family-friendly hotels also offer kids’ club services and terrific activities for kids, so they have ways of expending their extra energy when you’re in need of some downtime. Whether you’re planning to visit kid-friendly attractions during your stay or downloadingnew apps on the iPad for the flight, the more they have to do, the easier it is on you.
Which leads me nicely to my next point. Always keep traveling toddlers fed. My son’s nuclear meltdowns can be counted on both hands (thankfully) but one of the most memorable has gone down as the ‘Turkish-Meltown’ when we foolishly forgot food thinking he would be napping at a certain time. He didn’t nap and we’ll never forget to carry food again. He knows it too and now it’s hard to convince him otherwise, to wait for lunch for example. The other day he looked at me, age 4.5, and said ‘but mummy, you always have food’ – heavily accenting the ‘always’. And, so would you, if you’d been the adult in charge that day in Turkey. There’s nothing quite like a hungry (and tired) toddler to put a downer on a family vacation, with a spectacular (embarrassing) meltdown! So, remember to pack snacks and beverages aplenty so there’s always something to nibble on in case of delays or remote island locations where lunch isn’t served for another hour!
Rowena Carr-Allinson contributed this to MiniTime. Since the arrival of her son in 2011, she has taken him everywhere from Bangkok to NYC, writing family friendly articles en route.
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